On Nov. 4, the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Education announced $3.4 million in awards to 39 Indiana schools through the Indiana Safe Routes to School program.
Indiana’s Safe Routes to School program started five years ago to encourage walking and biking to school by children, families and school faculty.
According to Juliana Hammer from the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity of the Health Department, childhood obesity prevention was one of the top reasons for promoting the program.
“It’s a great way for kids to get more physical activity as well as be more prepared for the school day,” Hammer said.
Childhood obesity data collected in 2007 showed that about 30 percent of Indiana’s children 10 to 17 years old were either overweight or obese, she said.
Hammer said this program alone can’t significantly improve these statistics.
But that it is definitely one of many strategies that will help make a difference in tackling the problem of childhood obesity in Indiana, she added.
“We are always looking for ways to expand walking and biking to schools,” Hammer said. “Everyone has a lot to gain from this program, especially when it’s done safely through good crosswalks, sidewalks and crossing guards as well.”
This year, 58 Indiana schools applied for the invested federal funds program to improve pedestrian and bicycle friendliness.
With the financial ability to approve more than 60 percent of the requested $5.7 million in possible awards, INDOT chose beneficiary schools based on the needs expressed through applications for funding.
A strong application for funding might include intentions to incorporate the program plans into other local transportation planning or demonstration of local commitment within the community to walking and biking, according to the program’s page of the INDOT website
In southern Indiana, four schools were each awarded $250,000, the largest award a school could receive for infrastructure through the SRTS program fund.
At Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School in Indianapolis and Indianapolis Public School No. 84 Center for Inquiry, the money will go toward a number of different pedestrian enhancements.
At Spencer Elementary School in Spencer, Ind., sidewalk construction, curb ramps and crosswalks will be made possible by the $250,000 award.
In addition to promoting a safe and healthy lifestyle, these routes to school assure that children are prepared for a rigorous day of learning, according to Alex Damron, communications director for IDOE.
“Each of the schools’ plans will have a positive and meaningful impact on their school community,” Damron said. “It looks like a growing number of them are able to have that now. These schools’ successes should be celebrated.”
Will Wingfield, spokesman for INDOT, said the program tries to distribute funds to schools in urban and rural areas alike to give all schools a chance to receive awards.
As well as providing children with opportunities to stay active and healthy, Wingfield said there are other incentives.
“The program addresses many major issues at a social level,” Wingfield said. “It can bring down childhood obesity but also reduce the number of cars on the road and improve air quality. It’s a program that is in high demand right now.”
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